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These are a few of my favourite things: Dave Clark

What’s your favourite…

Brand identity?

For me, the Air NZ Koru is the one that tugs at the heartstrings the most. We were Air New Zealand’s graphic design house for twelve years and I led the project when they updated their identity before the most recent one. We left the original, 60’s koru unchanged. It was a fascinating international co-operative project, working with a host of design specialists around the world. I never realised how complicated airline and aviation design was!  


Probably the Sydney Opera House. When I was working in Australia in my youth, I worked with people who’d help build it, and have read quite a bit about the difficulties faced by Jorn Utzon in getting the designs approved. It proves the value of a strong, simple creative idea, and has stood the test of time remarkably well.  


I once owned a Nissan Escargo, which was a bit like a post-modern version of the old Citroen 2CV, (not surprising as the designers had used the 2CV as a model). It had all these quirky design elements that were beautifully thought out, was fun to drive and was very comfortable.


Terence Conran. I met up with him once and had a good talk. No one’s come close in recent years in matching his amazing breadth of work, ranging from his Habitat stores and products, his restaurants, some of which I’ve eaten good meals in, and the many books he’s published, plus much more. He changed the whole retail scene in the UK in the 60’s, and is still going!  

Clothing brand?

Karen Walker. I’m in awe of her business success taking her Kiwi fashion brand to the world, and her continuing and successful efforts to extend her fashion offering. I really admire her continued success, because I know how hard it is. My three shareholder colleagues, plus our many colleagues have worked really hard to create an international design company with Kiwi roots and ownership – it’s not easy.

Use of design to change behaviour?

Our Dave Clark Design UX/UI team is doing some interesting work in the computer interface field at the moment, and seeing their efforts reminded me of the groundbreaking work done at the Xerox PARC centre that made our work possible. Their revolutionary ideas certainly changed a lot of behaviour, and made it a heck of a lot easier to operate computers.    

Inspiring design-related book/podcast/TV show/website/magazine/story?

I love the way that comic books, and adult ones at that are making a comeback, particularly in places like France, also elsewhere. I recently got The art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, a graphic novel out of the Auckland library. It’s a tale of how this Singaporean cartoonist/author/ artist/publisher slaved for nearly 50 years trying to get his work published. It reminded me of how hard this Design business of ours can be. 

Design project you’ve had a hand in?

Probably the All Black Silver fern device, which I designed in 1986, and has become somewhat of a national symbol – they were trying to get it as one of the new flag designs last year. I really sweated over three months to get something that I thought would work well over time, doing hundreds of drawings, and it’s a real privilege to see it still in use, without any changes, more than thirty years later.  

Design project that isn’t yours, but you’re envious of?

Although I was trained as a graphic designer, not a product designer, I’d have loved to work on some of the early Apple Mac laptop designs. It’s a product that’s in universal use, is beautiful to handle, and demonstrated how much value design can add. Before Steve Jobs arrived, the computer industry was totally unaware of design issues. To be a bit blunt, apart from Apple, the computer industry hasn’t really come very far with their design thinking from that time!    

What first drew you to design?

I spent my childhood on Cyprus, in the Mediterranean, and learned to draw from my father, developing a real interest in the visual world. Although there weren’t any books, TV or much else in the way of western media, there was incredible beauty and romance in my surroundings: Ancient ruins, fascinating cultures, amazingly interesting people and events that were happening around me. Because I believe design is about consolidation and bringing ideas together, and also a phenomenally cultural activity, this childhood really helped me in understanding the world, and learning how to communicate within it.  

Where does inspiration come from for you?

The world of creativity is all around us, if only we have the eyes to see it! I’m inspired by loads of things that I come across every day. For instance, by the hard work that everyday jobs like bus drivers and builders put in to get things done, and how being able to soak up their discipline and perseverance, and use the memory of their energy to inspire colleagues to do absolutely their best work! Artists and designers don’t have any monopoly on creativity and it’s good to realise how many talented people in all sorts of jobs, out there are in the world, most of them doing great work unacknowledged.

Do you have a design ethos/motto you abide by in your work?

Yes, it’s a very simple one, and no doubt used by many people in our industry. ‘Great work, great service’. Very easy to say, very hard to do!

What makes a good designer?

Perseverance, talent, the ability to work out what’s a stand-out idea from one that’s not, and then relentlessly work on it till it works as a communication piece, plus much more.

Do you have any creative side hustles going on outside of your line of work? If so, what?

I still love to create images and I have a fully fitted out studio at home filled with a range of drawing and painting materials, as well as the odd computer.

How has technology impacted on your work? How do you think it will impact on it in the future?

Ha, that’s a great question. Technology and fashion has regularly turned the design Industry upside down, and is in the process of doing so faster and more comprehensively than ever before. I like to think that having weathered so many of these industry-changing storms, and see so many old skills being usurped and replaced, I’ve developed the capacity to react appropriately. Design is still at the heart of what we do, but the media is changing so fast that it’s breathtaking. But because design skills can be used still at every stage of these technical revolutions, we’ll still be needed.

Who are some of your design heroes?

I suppose my design heroes would be influenced by my own career, thus I admire designers who have been able to create long-lasting groups that keep going doing well in their field. So, for instance, the people who started groups like Pentagram, and Wolf Ollins in the UK, Landor and Chermayeff and Geismar in the US, and Cato over Her in Australasia.

Best design-related advice you ever received?

I was in a demoralisingly long line of designers being interviewed for a small agency in London in the 70’s. There must have been about 20 of us all standing in a queue, clutching our folios, shuffling forward slowly, being brought into a small room where we were being interviewed, each for only about two or three minutes. After a quick look at my work, the interviewer said, ‘keep drawing’.

What do you enjoy the most about working in this industry?

It’s a people industry, and you meet some wonderful people-colleagues, clients, suppliers. I’m very lucky being able to work with the support of my three shareholders, Andy, Andrew and Jonathan. We’ve worked together for about twenty years, and we’re like family, enjoying success together when it comes, facing up to the inevitable business and design challenges together, and knowing that we all share a common vision of doing excellent work.   

How do you define New Zealand’s design culture?

I know I’m supposed to say nice things about what a wonderful design culture we have here in NZ, etc, etc. But the reality is that, as is always the case in the creative industries, there’s way too many people for too few jobs, it’s very, very competitive here, and because it’s such a small place, the best design is outward looking and benefits immensely from people like Peter Jackson, who’ve proved that you can do ground-breaking creative work in this country. 

Elly is Idealog's editor and resident dog enthusiast. She enjoys travelling, tea, good books, and writing about exciting ideas and cool entrepreneurs.

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